Researcher Says Schools Need To Expand Focus To Deal With Violence

January 20, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Schools in violence-torn inner cities may need to expand their roles beyond the “three Rs” if they are to succeed in educating children, according to an Ohio State University researcher.

Studies have shown that some children may have difficulties learning when they are under the stress of continual violence in their community, said Antoinette Errante, an assistant professor of educational policy and leadership. Schools could help children -- and adults -- by thinking about how they could become safer and more secure, caring places.

Some of the strategies could result from stronger school and community partnerships. For example, educators and community leaders might find creative ways to provide supervised after-school play areas in neighborhoods where violence is an issue, and help secure safe routes to and from school.

“Many of these activities may appear beyond the school’s traditional role,” Errante said. “But if the objective is to improve student achievement, we have to make sure students aren’t too preoccupied with safety to learn effectively.”

Errante discussed how community violence affects children and schooling in a recent issue of the American Journal of Education. Errante has studied school- and community-based violence intervention programs in South Africa, Mozambique and the United States.

“Schools and teachers cannot and should not be expected to provide a panacea for community violence,” she said. “However, schools have to play a role in light of research suggesting that exposure to violence is a significant cause of behavioral and learning problems in many schools. We also know that caring schools with teachers trained to understand the impact of violence on their students and themselves can make a difference.”

One solution which seems promising is the idea of “full-service” schools. In these schools, community groups, educators, and social service agencies work together to provide health and counseling services, adult education and parenting classes, and parent and community resource centers, she said.

Through such partnerships, schools could provide opportunities for parent-run support groups to address stresses confronting adults in vulnerable communities and families. “In order to help the children, we first have to deal with the problems of adults in a community,” she said.

Errante said U.S. children might benefit from adoption of the United Nations’ idea of designating children and areas important to their well-being as conflict-free zones. Schools could be one place designated as conflict-free zones, just as many are now designated drug-free zones. Parents and other adults can help ensure that the school is a place where children can play in safety, during and after school hours.

The goal is to make the schools a place where children feel comfortable enough that they can make learning a priority.

“For young children especially, it is important to know there is some place they can go every day where life is predictable, logical and orderly,” she said.

These activities shouldn’t all be the responsibility of teachers and school officials; they could be run by local parent, civic or youth groups, according to Errante. “Schools should be places where diverse groups can be involved in helping the community,” she said. “Educators themselves do not have to assume responsibility for all the activities.”

Although schools can’t be the answer to violence in communities, they have an important role to play, she said.

“Schools certainly have their limitations with respect to resolving the broader issues of community violence,” she said. “But schools and teachers need to improve the well-being of vulnerable children if we hope to have any chance of educating them.”

Ohio State University

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